This blog is devoted to the written presentation defense of Christian theism. The principal essence of theology is God. Human knowledge is inescapably revelational. Man knows because God is. Reason nor science can function properly without radical transformation by God's regenerative work of grace. No other position on the subject of reason or science achieves epistemic coherence with the principle of Sola Scriptura.
Τοῦτο λέγω, ἵνα μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς παραλογίζηται ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ. (Col. 2:4)
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Endorsing Candidates from the Pulpit
According to tax law, political endorsements by non-profit
religious organizations can result in forfeiture of the organization’s
tax-exempt status. The issue itself is pretty cut and dry. Recently, pastors
across America decided to classify this law as an infringement on religious
liberty and began to challenge the constitutionality of the law by stating
which candidate they will vote for from the pulpit and even telling congregants
which candidate should receive their vote. This behavior raises a number of
issues, not the least of which concerns the duty of clergy to their congregants
in terms of applying the Christian ethic to the voting process. However, this
behavior raises another very interesting question. Is it an infringement on
religious liberty remove the tax-exempt status of a church because they are
engaging in political endorsements?
The argument looks this: 1) Christians must endorse
political candidates in order to practice their religion. 2) The IRS will not
grant tax-exempt status to any organization that publicly endorses a political
candidate. 3) Therefore, the IRS is infringing on my religious freedom and it
is in violation of the constitution.
The argument is logically valid, but is it true? In order
for the argument to be true, the premises upon which the conclusion rests must
both be true. With this in mind, we begin by examining the first premise. Is it
true that Christians must endorse political candidates? A good way to examine
this question is to reverse the concept. Can a Christian avoid endorsing any
political candidate without compromising their status as a Christian? In other
words, is it a sin to avoid endorsing a particular politician? Asked
differently, is there a divine imperative anywhere in Scripture that instructs
Christians to endorse a specific political candidate? In order for the major
premise of this argument to be true, there must be a divine imperative ordering
Christians, if they wish to practice the Christian religion accurately, to
endorse a specific political candidate. Does such an imperative exist in
Scripture? Since the cultures of Scripture knew nothing about the modern,
western political process, the answer must be that Scripture contains no divine
imperative either explicit or implicit that requires Christians to endorse a
specific political candidate.
Another component of this argument concerns free speech law.
The rebuttal might be that even if it is not an infringement on religious
liberty, it most certainly is an infringement on free speech. The issue is
tax-exempt status. If any 501 (c) (3) organization engages in specific
political endorsements, they will lose their tax exempt status. The potential
for corruption in this matter is very large. To argue that this is a free
speech issue is a misnomer in my opinion. The reason it is not an infringement on free speech is because you are not jailed or fined in any way. You may engage in endorsements of specific candidates, but you will be taxed like everyone else who does that. That tax-exempt privilege is just that; it is a privilege. It is reserved for organizations who engage in very specific activities. If you engage in these activities, and only these activities, the IRS will donate to your cause by not taxing you. To look at it any other way is a wrong-headed way of looking at it.
Now we turn to the second point of this argument. That point
is that the IRS is violating the constitution by refusing to grant tax exempt
status to religious organizations if they engage in actively endorsing political
candidates. First of all, the IRS isn’t targeting religious organizations. It
is seeking to eliminate fraud and corruption. The IRS does not want political
machines creating pseudo charity organizations that are really a front for
politics, power, and all the corruption that goes with it. Second, the church
has somehow adopted the mentality that she has the “right” to a tax-exempt
status or she is being persecuted if such a status is not granted. The tax
exempt status is a way to encourage charitable giving to organizations that are
involved in a plethora of humanitarian causes. The church may use her free
speech protection to make numerous statements about the moral implications of
certain political platforms, candidate’s viewpoints, etc. Leaders can easily
guide their communities through the evils or the good that certain views
endorse. However, to argue that the church must be free to publically endorse
one candidate over another is a perfect way for the culture to respond by
removing the idea of religious organizations from the 501(c) (3) tax exempt
status they currently enjoy.
When the world sees the church engaging in this kind of
behavior, they do not see Christ nor do they hear the life-changing gospel.
They see a community of religious people that want to use their special status
to gain power in order to create a society that is under their moral thumb, so
to speak. They see oppression and their own freedom’s being taken from them.
While many in the church naively think they are being persecuted for
righteousness sake, the truth is they are not. They really are no different
from a communist dictator who decides for the rest of society how they may
carry on their lives. This is the perception the church creates when she
engages in this wrong-headed idea.
I fully understand the passion of these pastors who
desperately want cure society of its moral decadence. I would love to see an
end to all abortion everywhere. I would love to protect the institution of
marriage. I would like to see an end to human trafficking. Where do we stop?
When you impose Christian morality on society and attempt to legislate it,
where do you stop? Murderers are sent to prison. Hence, anyone having an abortion
would go to jail. We would also imprison human traffickers. What would we do
with homosexual behavior? Would that carry a fine? Would we outlaw divorce
except in cases of adultery and abandonment? What would we do with adulterers?
It has never been the mission of the church to shape a
culture or society by legislating it’s moral code into law. All the attention
the church gives to electing the “right person” to office so that her own
values can be preserved within a culture is misguided. The Christian community
needs to focus on the values of the people within her own community. For those
who profess to know Christ, and are liars because they refuse to keep His
commandments, the community needs to address through discipleship and
discipline. For those on the outside, in the surrounding communities, the
church must display Christ’s values as the light she is, and preach the gospel
to every creature as faithfully as she can. The mission of pastors is clearly
spelled out in Scripture.
There is this supposed “culture war” that is going on
presently. Many leading evangelicals are concerned that the church is losing
the “culture war” to secularism. These are outsiders to the Christian group.
They should not be expected to live their life by Christian values. When will
the Church learn that it is a false expectation to think that the culture
should reflect Christ-like values? The world is not able, nor is it willing, to
adopt Christian values. Read the New Testament text and you will not see this
idea anywhere. They are unbelievers who reject God in a variety of ways. Roman
1 is clear about this. In fact, it could not be any clearer. Unregenerate human
beings hate God and are His sworn enemy. They consistently shape God into a god
they can live with or no god at all, replacing him with their own substitute,
whether it is science or human reason. The business of pastors is not politics.
It is leading the Christian group into disciple making, evangelism, and living
a very distinct set of values that it inherited from it’s founder, who is God
of very God!